I’ve recently been looking through my photographs from last year and decided to upload a few of these to Flickr – here they are! You can click through to see the full size images. I’ll add to this over time, and will also be adding pictures to the blog posts I wrote while I was there.
I had some fun today photographing these Burnet Moths. They’re all over the field in huge numbers. The field has been allowed to grow into a meadowy grassland, with plenty of different flowers including some spectacular purple orchids.
I only did a little editing to these, but can you spot the extremely subtle difference between these two?
I’ve been seeing a lot of selective colour edits around again recently, and this pink moth with its green background was an easy target. I’m not sure which I like best, but I enjoyed testing out the different looks. It was nice to take the DSLR for a walk, and even with the kit lens which is hardly specialised for close-ups I got a couple of nice pictures.
On my very first day, and based on a recommendation from a friend I took Jerry’s Grand Tour, which is very well named! The tour departed from the Hostelling International hostel at 11am, and when Jerry arrived he chatted with everyone and sent people back to get hats and coats if they weren’t properly dressed for the cold! It was snowing as we set off. We were given a thorough run-down of all we would be seeing and doing, and the meal schedule. We were also advised what subway tickets we would need. The tour itself only cost $10, but you did need to pay for food and subway tickets.
The first thing we did was to get the subway out to Brooklyn Heights, a neighbourhood across the water from Manhattan. We were all guided through the process of getting a subway ticket (we were advised just to get a week pass if we were going to be in NY for a couple of days, and it was certainly worth it). On the platform, Jerry chatted with us and pointed out the interesting features of 103rd St Station. We were promised a great deli to get our lunch from. We’d be carrying our lunches to the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge on foot!
We took in a few local landmarks, as well a street that has maintained its turn-of-the-century looks for movie-making. When we got to the deli, Garden of Eden, there was a huge amount on offer. Jerry recommended getting a sandwich from the back counter with a free drink. He put forward the veggie sandwich with a bit of turkey as the best choice, so that’s what I went for. Sandwiches packed, we headed off (via a heated toilet!) to the edge of the river for a fantastic view of the skyline. It might have been more spectacular if it weren’t for the snow, but I liked seeing the tops of the buildings disappearing off into the clouds.
Next, we headed to the Brooklyn Bridge, and walked back across into Manhattan. On the way across the slippery bridge Jerry regaled us with facts and figures regarding the bridge’s construction, as well as telling us about the other architecture on view. It was a fantastic (if cold!) experience to walk over the bridge and see its construction up close.
As we got back to Manhattan, we took in some more landmarks before jumping into a Starbucks and eating our sandwiches – I assume the staff didn’t mind as Jerry does this twice a week and most of the group bought coffees… either way, we were left in peace.
The next stop was the financial district, which included a visit to the memorial at Ground Zero. Jerry stopped and spoke to the group about that day in NY history, and though sad, it was definitely an experience to have it brought to life by him. After telling us about the new construction on the site, including the 1776ft One World Trade Ccenter skyscraper, Jerry took us to the nearby St Paul’s Chapel. We sat in the pews and listened as he talked more about the days following the attack, and the New York spirit. The chapel was used in the rescue efforts in the aftermath of September 11th 2001.
We then headed up to Wall Street, where jerry told us about the origins of the name. He also spent some time taking pictures of some of the group for a personal project of his – he would tell us more about this later on. Throughout the tour, Jerry would stop people in the street to take their photograph, and I didn’t see a single person say no! We headed towards the (free!) Staten Island Ferry as the light started to fade, and were taken to the spot with the best view of the island as we chugged away from it. We saw the statue of Liberty from the boat too. We took the ferry straight back over, which was a nice sit-down after a good chunk of walking.
So, are you tired yet? By this point in the tour, lots of new friendships had been formed, and Jerry had sung us songs, told us stories about his life in New York, and had snapped pictures of plenty of people. We explored Little Italy, Chinatown and places in between with Jerry, who once again told us lots of interesting facts and figures about the area and its history. We also went into Evolution, a very unique shop specialising in “natural” curiosities such as shells, bones and preserved insects. It certainly was an interesting stop. There was also a photography gallery showcasing landscapes from around the world. As promised, at 8pm we got to an Indian restaurant and had a meal for $12 including taxes and tips! Everyone was served the same thing, and some drinks were included.
The next stop after our meal was Grand Central Station, which is a seriously beautiful place. The main terminal inside was spectacular. Jerry told us that the building was nearly demolished to build a skyscraper (another one!) and was saved by popular vote. The building celebrated its centenary this year, and has retained a lot of its charm. The thing I couldn’t put my finger on was explained by Jerry – there are very strict regulations concerning the interior appearance of the building, and as such only very minimal advertising and seasonal decorations are allowed. This definitely adds to the timeless atmosphere – where so many people are hurrying to and fro! On the way out we were treated to a beautiful full moon above the Chrysler Building – definitely my favourite NYC skyscraper.
Next stop, the Rockefeller Center with its giant Christmas tree and ice rink. This was really when I felt the Christmassy feeling properly – it’s not always the same spending the run-up to Christmas in a different country. I also felt that this particular part of the city was really working hard to put on a bit of a spectacle for locals and tourists alike, and despite the lateness of the hour, there were still lots of people out and about.
We made it to Times Square at around 11:30pm, and the sight that met us was quite incredible! I was amazed by the sheer number of advertisements and lights and people still crowding around so late into the evening. Still, we were all feeling pretty pleased with ourselves for sticking with the tour for so long. We had lost a couple of people in the first hour, but the other 15 or so had hung on for the whole day. Jerry called us “the walking group”. We finished up the tour with a ride in the Hilton Hotel’s impressive lifts, which were just big enough to fit us all in. Flying up inside the glass lifts between all the floors was a truly bizarre and New York experience, and I never would have found it without Jerry.
This tour was sort of extreme, but so worth the time and money ($10!!!). Jerry is a fantastic guide, and yes, you maybe could do it faster if you weren’t waiting for others every so often, but you would miss out on meeting new friends on the tour, not to mention Jerry’s facts and stories, and his great personality and laugh. I did this tour on my first day in New York, and I felt very comfortable in the city after being shown around by Jerry. Although we didn’t go inside many of the “big” attractions, I think the tour gave me food for thought about where to visit on the next days, and gave me a good background of the history of New York and its people. I spent the rest of my time in New York with people I had met on this tour. Thanks Jerry!
During the drive up to Stowe the roads got smaller, the temperature began to drop, and millions of fir trees started to appear. I was in Vermont for nearly three weeks, here are some of the highlights in no particular order.
The friendly town of Stowe
I think it’s fairly safe to say that Stowe does well to cater to tourists. The ski resort brings in plenty of business to the area, and as a result the small town supports plenty of arts and crafts places, cafes and restaurants. There is a supermarket and a few general stores as well. The atmosphere in the town was extremely friendly, and very relaxed. Even though it wasn’t peak season, there was plenty of life around the place and enough to do if you weren’t on the mountain. The buildings are picturesque and colourful, and there’s a recreation path too.
Sushi Yoshi in Stowe
Three out of the four of us had Hibachi, which is sort of like performance cookery. There is a flat grill in the centre and the chef cooks there, with the diners sitting around on three sides. There was a lot of setting things on fire, and the chef cooked as well as giving us a show. At one stage he was chucking things at us to catch in our mouth and cheering when we managed. I’ve never had so much fun while performing this feat. I had a bento box and really enjoyed it, especially the sushi which was fantastic. Naturally I had a try of the hibachi as well and it was also lovely. You can see pictures on their website.
Maybe it’s more spectacular in the depths of winter, or during the summer, but this easy walkway down by the river was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. I walked out of town along the roadside path, and headed back in towards the church along the recreational route. It was fairly chilly, but there was evidence in the snow of plenty of people using the route.
Ben and Jerry’s Factory Tour
This was lots of fun. The inside of the building is pretty psychedelic, and the tour guide we had really knew his stuff (even when asked some non-standard questions about cows). We were given a free mini-cup of ice cream at the end of the tour as well. The tour itself lasted about 30 mins, and only cost $4, which is a bargain. This factory is no longer the largest factory, but it was the first one where the ice cream was produced. If you like the ice cream, it’s a fun thing to go and see. They also have a flavour graveyard, with headstones erected to flavours no longer made. This comes complete with styrofoam crows.
Learning to Ski at Stowe Mountain Resort
Definitely one of the best days ever! I had never skied before coming to Vermont, and learning to ski with my hosts was absolutely brilliant. Josh took charge of the lesson and was very patient with me all day, and I made much faster progress than I had expected with only minimal falling over and frustration! We started off on a small bump (not even a hill), then I graduated to the Magic Carpet (whose witchcraft I still don’t understand) and I managed to ski down a beginner slope (Inspiration) before lunch, with Josh helping me to improve by giving me strange feats to perform. The lessons on Inspiration continued after lunch, and my much more experienced hosts kept me company at times, practising more advanced techniques. As well as feeling good about knowing some skiing basics, I feel much more confident about trying other athletic activities now too. Taking off the ski boots at the end of the day felt amazing as my normal shoes felt like slippers… After a fun day skiing we went to the Matterhorn and had a drink and something to eat, and I was absolutely exhausted!
My time in Vermont was very relaxed. It was lovely to drink delicious milk bought from the farm in the next town, to go to the supermarket and the food co-op. It was lovely to take Loomis into the woods or on walks at lunchtimes when I was in the house, and it was lovely to meet other people who worked at the mountain. Every day I was woken up by Loomis sniffing my face and the skiiers getting ready to be at the mountain for lift-opening time, and we went to bed early too as the light faded. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a pretty nice lifestyle!
As I now have two lenses – yes, two! – I wanted to invest in another UV filter for protection if nothing else. I had also been told that a Circular Polarising Filter was very useful for having more control regarding skies and water, and after looking at a few articles to find out more (including this one on Wikipedia) I duly investigated and bought a set of 4 filters that came in a case – the UV and CPF came with a Fluorescent filter and a warming filter. The CPF itself has an adjustable ring, meaning you can turn the front part to get different effects.
The two images below were taken with the CPF at different points in its rotation. I’m not sure how to describe where in its rotation the filter is, but as I’m looking through the lens I can see the effects before choosing to take the picture.
In this first image the sky is fairly flat behind the larger clouds, and the sea is a fairly deep blue. The rocks are also fairly dark.
The second image below was taken with the same settings, the only difference being the rotation of the filter.
In this image, the higher clouds are much more defined, and the sea is more of a grey-blue. There is also noticeably more detail in the brighter rocks, and there is less contrast between the sea and the sky. I’m sure I will get a lot of use out of this filter, especially in snowy conditions when the brightness of the snow could overwhelm other details.
Other uses of this filter include removing unwanted reflections from windows and water. With the polariser it is possible to look through shallower water rather than seeing a reflection of the sky. I’m very happy with the versatility provided by this filter, especially as I wouldn’t be able to replicate this using editing software.
One of the things that struck me most about my new DSLR was that I didn’t have the same versatility with the kit lens that I used to have with my bridge camera (shock!). It’s true to say that I missed zooming about and I remedied this by acquiring a modest zoom lens, which will feature in another post.
Another of the big misses for me was the Super Macro Mode that I’d had on my previous camera. I used to really enjoy taking pictures of tiny, tiny things like the ones below.
I’ve just spent a good chunk of money on my new zoom lens and I don’t want to spend more on a dedicated macro lens just yet. Nevertheless, I started to poke about on Amazon to see what was available. I came across the title product, the Opteka 52mm 10x HD² Professional Macro Lens and wondered what it was all about. Looking at the example images I thought that this might be a cheap and cheerful way of getting some of my macro ability back.
The product itself is basically a magnifying glass with a thread on it for attaching to the front of a lens, like you would a filter. Given the price I was not expecting phenomenal results, despite some of the positive reviews online. This really is more of a quick-fix solution to not being able to take pictures of bugs on sticks.
I took it out for a walk yesterday, using it with my kit lens to see what I could manage. To say that autofocus struggles is an understatement, so I gave up on that fairly quickly. I also struggled with deciding whether to zoom up close or stay back at 18mm – I soon discovered that I ended up with a black ring at 18mm. Mostly I ended up settling on a happy medium at somewhere around 35mm, and let the camera work out the rest for me. The images below are straight out of the camera so I can keep an accurate record of what I’ve taken.
There are many things “wrong” with the image above; the depth of field is not as large as I would like, for a start. After looking at a few photos taken with this little add on, the main pattern is that I do not have as much depth of field as I would like. Looking around at other reviews for the product, people are recommending apertures of up to f/22 – I took this one at f/7.1 which is a massive difference. On my next walk I’m going to try some much smaller apertures with similar subjects and see what the results are from there. The image below is my favourite from yesterday’s walk.